IF Comp 2015 Guest Post: Lucian Smith on Ether

This post is part of an ongoing project to bring more voices to the IF Comp conversation. I have been reaching out to players and authors who aren’t part of the intfiction community, and also to some veteran intfiction denizens who might not have time to cover the whole comp but who are likely to have especially useful feedback in particular areas.

Lucian Smith — now becoming a bit of a veteran of the guest post format — writes here about Ether by Mathbrush.

Continue reading

Stephen Granade on Life on Mars?

cover-finalAs part of the IF Comp review collective project, I asked Stephen Granade — scientist and science educator, author of space escape game Fragile Shells, and former IF Comp organizer — to look at Life on Mars?. He came through in style with a Twine review that demonstrates his feedback interactively.

Attack of the Clockwork Army (Felicity Banks)

Attack of the Clockwork Army is a new Hosted Game at Choice of Games. It’s a steampunk Australian story by the same author who wrote IF Comp‘s Scarlet Sails and one of this year’s Windhammer Prize entrants, After the Flag Fell. And before I get any further at all, we need some disclosures.

Disclosures: Attack of the Clockwork Army is a hosted game released by Choice of Games, with whom I also have a contract. Moreover, I received a free copy of this game for the purpose of writing about it.

Continue reading

October Link Assortment

Upcoming meetings and events:

Wordplay in Toronto is November 7. There will be talks about text-based games, there will be demos of other games, there will be assorted IF folks. I am speaking. Perhaps I will see you there.

Also November 7, London: ProcJam launches with a series of free talks about procedurally generating things. Alexis Kennedy (Fallen London) and Kate Compton (Tracery text generation tool, many other cool creative tools) will both be speaking. I obviously cannot be there because I will be in Toronto instead, but I know a number of Oxford/London IF Meetup folks are planning to attend.

November 11 is the regularly scheduled Boston IF meetup. I will be there also.

November 29, Oxford: WIP Sharing meetup. If you have a piece for which you’d like feedback, this is a great place to show up and share what you have.

December 12-13, London: AdventureX is a free two-day conference about adventure games, focusing primarily but not exclusively on graphical adventures. Again, there will be some text game people there (probably including me).


What to play for Halloween?

Screen Shot 2015-10-14 at 11.14.04 AM

Matthew Ritter’s graveyard-exploration piece Boon Hill is coming to Steam today, so if you’d like to celebrate Halloween by wandering around looking at some epitaphs, here’s your opportunity.

If bureaucracy and money issues spook you more than graves, you may enjoy Harry Giles’ ritual for grant-seekers, a liturgy about the process of applying for art support grants. If this sounds incomprehensible: it’s really not. Like a lot of Harry’s game poetry, it encapsulates its critiques of a system into rules and actions.

Or perhaps you’ll like Aevee Bee and Mia Schwartz’s visual novel We Know the Devil. It’s about three teenagers who struggle to be their best selves, and not to leave one another behind, at a camp where possession is a standard occurrence. Also, something of a reflection on community in its more destructive aspects. (Here’s Isz Janeway’s review.)

More in the mood to make legal contracts with demons? Max Gladstone has a new Choice of Games game out in his Deathless series, called Deathless: The City’s Thirst. He talks about it — and the challenges of writing a second work in this format — over here.

The Ritual (Edward Turner) is a comedy Lovecraftian piece where you need to replay to see all the endings. It’s rather sweet, assuming you’re not too bothered by exploding your acolytes and raining shattered flesh over the land. A quick and entertaining play.

I can also recommend any of the Comp games I’ve reviewed in the last week or so, especially Brain Guzzlers from Beyond! if you want goofy 1950s aliens, Arcane Intern (Unpaid) if you want a little witchcraft, Darkiss for an old-school vampire.

Or, again, you might like Tailypo by Chandler Groover, published this month on Sub-Q: it’s a short horror piece. No branching, but a good example of what dynamic fiction can do. (I have a horrible sneaking feeling that I’m actually starting to quite like horror genre IF, even if I’m not really a fan of it in books or movies. And as long as there aren’t any zombies in sight.)

And there’s Anna Anthropy’s Witches and Wardrobes, run earlier in the month: I’m planning to write about this one a little more later. It’s more personal and less suspenseful than Tailypo but unsurprisingly also excellent.


IF Comp is still running! If you want to get in on the action and vote on some games, you have a couple more weeks to do so. In addition to all the reviews here and at ifwiki, you might enjoy The Short Game’s podcast coverage of the competition.


Continue reading

IF Comp 2015 review collective

As part of an ongoing project to bring more voices to the IF Comp conversation, I’ve been reaching out to players and authors who aren’t part of the intfiction community, and also to some veteran intfiction denizens who might not have time to cover the whole comp but who are likely to have especially useful feedback in particular areas. Some of those reviews are hosted here, and others on the reviewers’ own sites (where, with luck, they may catch the eye of more and other potential players). The purpose of this post is just to round these up; I’ll edit in more links as they occur.

So far we have:

Cape, reviewed by Harry Giles
Capsule II, reviewed by Susan Patrick
Crossroads, reviewed by JJ Gadd
Darkiss, reviewed by Lucian Smith
Duel, reviewed by Yoon Ha Lee
Ether, reviewed by Lucian Smith
Forever Meow, reviewed by Instructor Dad
Grandma Bethlinda’s Variety Box, reviewed by Justin DeVesine
Kane County, reviewed by S.A.
Life on Mars?, reviewed by Stephen Granade
Map, reviewed by Duncan Stevens
Midnight. Swordfight. reviewed by Justin DeVesine
Switcheroo, reviewed by Lucian Smith
Untold Riches, reviewed by Brendan Desilets

Sun Dogs (Royal Polygon)

Screen Shot 2015-10-24 at 4.22.15 PM

Sun Dogs is a map-and-text game, with various events tied to each location, and various routes between locations. Much of the pleasure comes from exploring and finding out how different this universe is from our own. So far it’s formally reminiscent of 80 Days, but that’s where the resemblance ends.

Sun Dogs is austere, minimally directed, thinly populated rather than teeming with people and cultures. No other named characters appeared at all in the time I was playing, and even my own character is abstract, impersonal, and easily changed. When I started I was given a simple mission, and occasionally landing on a planet seemed to produce further outcomes, but in general I was just hopping from place to place, trying to wrap my mind around the world that the creators had built.

The game is set in a transhumanist future in which we have changed both our solar system and our own bodies beyond recognition. All the planets through Mars are accessible, and there are additional stations and stopping points at some major asteroids, and in the “debris field” around Earth, and in similar locations. Meanwhile, my character at one point went shopping for some new eyes, and on another occasion had a couple tanks of spare oxygen installed inside her body, just in case.

The whole solar system is in motion, as it should be: no fixed routes from London to Paris here. If you set out for a nearby station, your journey there is animated in a way that takes into account the lowest-energy way to accomplish that journey, which is anything but a straight line. If you go further afield, you get a brief transition screen telling you how many days you’ve used up (usually measured in the hundreds), and when you arrive the positions of the planets are updated accordingly. Time is not particularly a source of pressure. Age doesn’t seem to be important, and you can always get a new sleeve to inhabit, even if you die (which happened to me several times within my first half hour of play). Resources like fuel and food aren’t simulated, so you don’t have to worry about running out. The very fact that you can casually go on a voyage of a year and a half just to check something out gave me a sense of utter strangeness like that of playing Hoist Sail for the Heliopause and Home.

Screen Shot 2015-10-24 at 4.32.56 PMSun Dogs doesn’t really focus on goal-seeking play. The couple of missions I received at the outset of the game took me only a few minutes to complete and were not followed up with others — and they also had little consequence when completed, as far as I could tell. Meanwhile, just by exploring various locations, I automatically received assorted upgrades to my body and mind, not because I was looking for them or had paid for them but because exploring that area simply brought them into being. The biggest appeal for me was simply drifting from place to place and investigating all the unusual places and events.

(Disclosure: I played a free copy of the game that was given to me for the purposes of review. The game is available today on Steam.)